Hank’s car was parked on Desolation Street. Instead of going straight to his office he pulled into the wide alley behind the Morgue. Halfway down the alley, near the shuttered loading dock where the coroner’s van used to unload the daily dead, Hank could see the big tipper in the black suit. Looked like he was going back to the club. Behind him on the pavement lay a spreading water puddle.
The hard heels of the tipper’s boots clicked with every step. Hank pulled alongside and said, “Hi, Red.”
The pencil thin mustache curled up on one side. “Get lost, I don’t need a ride.”
Hank said, “Your husband dead yet?”
Footsteps halted. “Say what?”
“I remember his face but I forgot his name,” said Hank.
“Don’t try anything. I’ve got a gun.”
Two or three seconds later, there it was, a blue steel .32 caliber revolver pointed at Hank’s face.
“Big deal,” said Hank. “I’ve seen six year olds strutting around with .44 magnums and AK-47s”
The gun dropped out of the frame of the car window, the face came closer, the thin line of the mustache sagging. “You got a minute to talk, Hank? I’m desperate.”
Hank said he did and motioned at the passenger seat. It took a moment to put the gun away.
“Haven’t seen you in a while,” said Hank.
“How’d you know it was me?”
“Well, if you want people to think you’re a man, don’t let them see you squat to pee.”
“Fuck it,” she said. “This duct tape hurts like shit.”
Her name was Liz Wantone. She blew out a sigh and unbuttoned her shirt and reached inside and yanked. Tape ripped from skin let out a short shriek, but once it was done she relaxed her shoulders and smiled a little as each of her large breasts was released into the cup of her hand and massaged back to life, nipples popping up like missiles preparing for launch.
She had made an appointment with him six months ago, wanting to hire him to kill her husband. Hank remembered his name now: Tim T. Morney, vice president of a high speed trucking firm. Delivered soap, batteries, cooking oil, food, fuel and other bare necessities in the waning days of civilization. Broad shouldered guy, strong jaw, blue eyes, vacant expression.
She said he was mean and abusive, but gave no specifics. Pressed for details, she caved. Actually, he was seeing someone else. She felt betrayed and all that stuff and she wanted him dead.
Hank turned her down flat and she freaked. Yelled, screamed, threw things at him. She had a terrible throwing arm. Barely four feet away, she flung his Rolodex overhand at his face and missed by a foot.
“You couldn’t hit the floor if you dropped a bowling ball on it, baby,” he said.
“I thought you were a detective,” she said. “I’ve got money. I’ll pay extra.”
“Nobody has enough money to buy me,” Hank said. “I can be killed, run over, set on fire, but I can’t be bought.”
The pointed tip of her tongue peeked out between her lips, then retreated. She sulked and grew quiet but didn’t cry. A beauty mark on her cheek, full lips, giant brown eyes. He could see the hurt there, something going on beneath the hysteria. She wouldn’t talk about it.
That was then, this was now. Between deep breaths, she blurted everything, massaging both breasts with her right hand, squeezing his thigh with the left.
“I was crazy mad,” she said. “You must think I’m the worst kind of person.”
“Not really,” he said. “Not even average.”
She made a sound, almost a laugh. “Listen, I came to my senses. I love him more than anything. That’s why I was so out of my mind. But he came back to me and everything was fine. Now he’s gone.”
“What do you mean, gone? Dead, missing, what?”
“I don’t know. I’m afraid. He disappeared Monday.”
“It’s Saturday, sweetheart. That’s only six days.”
“He had a lot of enemies. They might be after me next. I know too much.”
“So that’s why the disguise?” he said.
She nodded. “Didn’t fool you, though.”
He shrugged. “Well, there’s something about you,” he said. “Not just your face, but the way your body moves under that suit.”
She looked at him. Her eyes were wet, and the eyeliner she’d used to paint on the pencil-thin mustache had faded on one side. “There’s something about you, too, Hank.”
“Want me to look for him?”
The vise of her fingers on his thigh. “Will you?”
He nodded. “Come to my office in the morning early, like nine o’clock. I’ll need some details, a photo, things like that.”
“Can we make it ten? I have an errand.”
“Where’s your office? I’m so freaked out I can’t remember.”
Things felt close, muscles stiff. He meant to take his notepad from his pocket, but the envelope from Alias was in the way. He unlatched the sleeve and removed one of the sheets of cardstock at random. On it was a mock up of a business card, blown up to three times the size for proofing, on 8 1/2 x 11 inch card stock. Block letters, black ink: “Hank Zzybnx, the Last Detective; 1976 Combustion Ave. (corner of Desolation Row & Combustion),” and the phone number.
Left of center was a linotype stamp of a giant eye, no lashes or eyebrow. Hank knew one of the other proofs had some kind of a fish on it. He gave her the one with the eye.
“It’s all I’ve got right now,” said Hank. “My assistant thinks I need business cards.”
The image seemed to startle her for a second. She pressed the sheet into quarter-folds and opened the flap of her jacket. She had to squeeze her left boob to one side to get to the pocket. She started to tape them up again.
“I don’t know how I can pay you.”
“We’ll call it a freebie.”
“You’re a cool friend, Hank. Can I return the favor?”
He studied her face. He’d know it upside down, backwards, whatever. He never forgot a face. Even with a thin line penciled across the upper lip.
She kissed him on the mouth, undoing the rest of her shirt buttons. Her tits emerged into the moonlight, displaying themselves like a pair of magic eggs.
She unzipped his pants and awakened his cock with the finesse of a snake handler. She was about to kiss him one more time before taking him in her mouth.
“Wait a second, baby.”
Lips parted and wet. “What is it, iron man?”
“Can we do something about that mustache?”